Monday, April 18, 2005

Good Faith, Bad Faith.

OK, so this whole entry is triggered by a below-the-belt suspicion. There is no real reason to suspect Paul Johnson, long-term Spectator columnist, of bad faith, but his current article in this weeks edition,, puts me irretrievably in mind of someone who is having doubts, and he shouldn't be, given his Catholicism.

As a general rule, the outer edges of amateur physics seem to be the natural conclave of atheists. They are drawn towards black holes, parallel universes, and the like. But Paul Johnson, professed Catholic, who is nearing the end of his life, suddenly winds up there. OK, he's a renaissance man who has demonstrated a wide interest in everything, but why now? Why now is he suddenly interested in string theory and wormholes?

So this is being nasty, but more usefully could this point to an essential inequality between those who profess a faith and those who don't? Uncertainty does not work in the issue of faith. You either have it, or you don't, and since the whole religious structure is founded upon it, the whole thing should collapse when you take faith away. (Please tell me I'm wrong here!)

Sensible atheists know that they live with uncertainty: that it is a matter of working with the most rational explanation available, and accepting that our theories in forever merely being renditions of the truth may always be subject to change. It may be that God will put in an appearance, but so far he hasn't and he doesn't provide good explanations anywhere right back to and beyond the Big Bang. We get on with living with uncertainty and the best ideas we have so far. (Some of these ideas seem pretty damn good, mind you, eg: the simple but startling idea that moral explanations are derived from factual ones.)


Hieronymous said...

You have raised very interesting issues here. Isn't Russell Stannard quite a good example of a convincing scientific/eligious man?

I know of and know personally many people who maintain convincing convictions whilst retaining a sense of fallibility. I suppose that it is not at all unreasonable to re-assess one's beliefs and attempt to progress them, even if in the meantime one has periods of certainty.

Is it not also possible that atheism is a sort of conviction?

I do see that your problem is with the fact that 'faith' is supposedly blind belief. Yet many a religious person has analysed the facts, as far as we know them, exhaustively before deciding that his faith will override all other theories - despite the lack of a totally convicing argument. It seems more along the lines of why one might vote for one political party rather than another; little to do with the perfection of any.

Perhaps having religious belief in this way is essentially hypocritical? I'll have to think some more. Pascale, amongst many other philosophers, would then be answerable to the raison d'etre behind their search....

Carlotta said...

Yeah, your political party analogy sounds just about right in practice.